1. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    What defines a character?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Carthonn, Jun 11, 2009.

    You can spend a crap load of time writing up a character description. Age, hair color, whether he's pissed off all the time, whether he's laid back. All that crap. After that what do you have? Nothing in my mind.

    I've spent some time making these up occasionally but I'm starting to realize perhaps that's what doesn't make a great character. It's what happens to the character and his reaction that makes him what he is.

    Like Forrest Gump for example. What made me love him was that scene during the Vietnam bombing. It showed he was selfless.

    I guess my old strategy would be to convince you a character was selfless and now I would rather show and have the reader be the judge.

    So in short, I think my strategy is going to focus more on creating those situations like that and forming my characters around them.
     
  2. ChaseRoberts
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    ChaseRoberts Senior Member

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    I do something like that, only once I've got the character. I ask, 'what would my characters do if this happened...' It's a good creative exercise, but personally I wouldn't start from the event and work my characters from that one situation. Unless of course, it was a single situation that made them completely who they were. but thats rare.
     
  3. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    I think the primary thing is to think mostly about what the character actually does, rather than thinking about who they are. If they're selfless, that's fine- but if the story never really gives them a chance to prove it, it doesn't matter. It's good to know, but it doesn't matter.

    Most people go into way too much detail about the character's birth and their race and their upbringing, without it having any real impact on the story. No-one cares that the character had a bad experience with bullies in their childhood. They care that the character's bad experience with bullies in their childhood makes them cringe when they see others under the same fate. No-one cares that the character is a half-elf. They care that as a half-elf, the character feels superior to both races, and this makes things difficult when he needs to investigate the murder of one by the other.

    It's the Batman Begins thing- "who you are doesn't matter. It's what you do that defines you."
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Character is all about seeing past the surface. Physical apperance has its place, but attitudes and actions, and how ther character grows in the course of the events he or she is exposed to, these are what make great characters. The last, how the character is changed by events, is often the most compelling aspect.

    That is one reason I eschew character sheets. So much effort goes into a static snapshot of the character that you tend to lock the character into it. It stunts growth.
     
  5. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    There are many, many ways to define a character. My approach is anything that makes a character stand out or easily differentiable. it doesn't need to be anything fancy or elaborate. What is important is how the character is recognized, no matter the means.
     
  6. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    Characters are defined in the exact same way that people are defined.
     
  7. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    Once again, Cog, you've hit the nail on the head. Or so the saying goes.

    Btw....you need to spell check your posts :p I have fun seeing the mistakes, but still..

    ~Lynn
     
  8. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    Yes, it stunts growth. Very good way of putting it. I guess maybe I could have titled the thread - I hate character sheets.
     
  9. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can see the use of developing some of the information you might get on a character sheet - things like age and how laid back they are all have some bearing on how a character is going to react in certain situations, and the writer ought to know about it. Barely any of it will actually make it into the story, of course, it can just make things feel more rounded. It ought to spark off other things - why are they so laid back all the damn time?

    That said, while I can see the use I don't think I've ever actually done it - mine always tend to be developed through writing dialogue snatches and getting their voice right.
     
  10. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I agree with you completely that "it's what happens to the character and his reaction that makes him what he is." Although I think I would say that's what makes the character what he is to the reader (including the author) and consequently who he becomes as a breathing piece of fiction. I think that's a terrific way to think of character development and far more effective than trying to mold a character first and then build some kind of story around him. It's often those preconceived notions we have about what a character "ought" to do that get in the way of imagining characters who take on a life of their own--or seem to our readers (including the reader inside us) to do that.

    I know, I know, there's all kinds of advice out there about creating a character's bio first and then writing the story. I've tried that. Maybe you have, too. I can't get the least bit interested in a character I define in that manner (and I'm sure my readers wouldn't either). Not sayin' other writers' mileage won't vary; just that I'm totally with you on this score.
     

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